Q1: I have been a landlord in Los Angeles for the past 30+ years and my buildings did not get affected by the Northridge earthquake back in 1994 or any other quakes. Why do I need to retrofit my building?  

A1: Many property owners I spoke with feel exactly like you. They experienced past quakes with minimal to no damage and many do not understand the new mandatory requirement to retrofit their buildings. We all know that retrofitting is quite a costly project and your concern is totally valid. Since we are referring to a natural disaster event, no one can really know or project when, where, and to what extent the next earthquake is going to hit our area. 

To answer your question, based on a broad research done prior to issuing this ordinance in 2015, Mayor Eric Garcetti, along with other city officials recognized the probable damage that may occur to properties with tuck-under parking that were built prior to 1978. These properties are at a higher risk and may collapse or suffer major damages that will potentially pose both a life-threatening hazard and create a housing and economic crisis. In fact, we see more and more cities adapting a similar strategy to prepare in advance for the day after. As the common expression goes, better be safe than sorry. 

Q2: We own a 9-unit building in West LA and only one unit is situated above the parking area where the construction is going to take place. Do we need to fill a Tenant Habitability Plan for all tenants or just this unit? Do we need to pay all our tenants to relocate their units or just the one above? 

A2: The Tenant Habitability Plan (THP) is a mandatory process which is relevant to ALL residents of the property regardless of where the retrofitting is going to take place. In fact, it is a form that is filled out and submitted to the city before construction begins to ensure proper planning of the project and inclusion of all tenants. Without its approval by the Housing Department, you cannot receive a permit from the building and safety department to start construction. In its essence, the THP informs all tenants about what will be done at the property and notifies them of their rights. 

What you need to know is that the construction involved in retrofitting does not typically require a tenant to relocate, move, or be monetarily compensated. Only on very rare occasions where construction and parking accommodations make the unit temporarily non-habitable the owner will then be required to seek temporary housing solutions such as relocating the tenant or paying for the relocation. Each, in accordance with the respective city’s laws. I hope the following fact may provide some insight; we have filed almost 200 THP applications and none of them required property owners to relocate or compensate their tenants. 

Q3: Our property looks like my neighbor’s with parking underneath the building. They just finished retrofitting their building but we never received any notice to comply from the city and we are concerned that we will miss the deadline of compliance. How can we check if our property is on the list and needs to be retrofitted? What should be done if our property is on the list and we cannot comply by the deadline mentioned on the notice?

A3: When the ordinance was first issued, Order to Comply notices were sent out to buildings that required retrofitting by criteria set by LADBS.  The following steps will assist you with determining if your property is on the city’s list and its specific compliance date: 

Step 1:  Go to the LADBS website – www.ladbs.org

Step 2:  Open the Services menu and click on the Permit and Inspection Report

Step 3:  Search the street number and name of your property

Step 4:  Click the + sign on the Retrofit Program Information

Step 5:  Click the + sign on the Soft-Story Retrofit Program Information

Once you open the Soft-Story Retrofit Program Information, you should see a yes or no answer to whether the building you searched is tagged as a possible soft story. If a Yes shows up than there will also be an Order to Comply date which is the effective date of the notice. In fact, you have two years from this date to submit structural engineering plans to achieve first stage compliance. If it says no and you still have doubts, I suggest that you call the City of Los Angeles seismic retrofit office at (213)482-7638 and verify it directly with them.

In regards to your question about not meeting the compliance deadline, if you find out that your property is indeed tagged as a soft story and needs retrofitting but you are short on submitting plans on or before the effective date, what you can do is file for an extension directly with LADBS or ask your chosen engineer with filling for an extension. Expect to pay about $300 for the extension application.  Good luck!

Dee Soffer is the founder and CEO of Retro Experts, a soft story retrofitting compliance company that has served over 400 projects to date. Dee is a serial entrepreneur with a proven track record of 25+ years of managing multi-family apartment buildings and real estate investments. Making an impact on community resilience is her drive and passion. Dee can be reached at 818.600.4325 or visit www.retroexperts.com.